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Lord Howell: My Lords, perhaps I may congratulate the Minister on visiting Birmingham. We do not always have that pleasure with regard to Ministers in this Government although a noble Baroness recently visited my football team, Aston Villa. We have done badly ever since.
Had the Minister had more time on his visit to Birmingham, he would have discovered what most of us know--that a large number of people took out mortgages that they cannot now properly finance. The result is a great disparity in the amount of money
Viscount Ullswater: My Lords, over 1.5 million tenants in Great Britain have bought their homes since the inception of the scheme in 1980. I am still convinced from the research we have done on the right to buy that home ownership is the tenure which most people prefer. Of council house tenants who bought under the right to buy, 96 per cent. were found to be pleased that they had bought. I believe that those are genuine aspirations and that they should be supported.
Viscount Ullswater: My Lords, I beg to introduce a Bill to provide for the establishment of a body corporate to be known as the Environment Agency and a body corporate to be known as the Scottish Environment Protection Agency; to provide for the transfer of functions, property, rights and liabilities to those bodies and for the conferring of other functions on them; to make provision with respect to contaminated land and abandoned mines; to make further provision in relation to national parks; to make further provision for the control of pollution, the conservation of natural resources and the conservation or enhancement of the environment; to make provision for imposing obligations on certain persons in respect of certain products or materials; to make provision in relation to fisheries; to make provision for certain enactments to bind the Crown; to make provision with respect to the application of certain enactments in relation to the Isles of Scilly; and for connected purposes.
(1) to report whether the provisions of any bill inappropriately delegate legislative power; or whether they subject the exercise of legislative power to an inappropriate degree of parliamentary scrutiny;
(2) to report on documents laid before Parliament under section 3(3) of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994 and on draft orders laid under section 1(4) of that Act, and to perform, in respect of such documents and orders, the functions performed in respect of other instruments by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments;
The Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Department of Health (Baroness Cumberlege) rose to move, That this House takes note of the Government's Green Paper, Tackling Drugs Together, and of the health risks of drug abuse, particularly the spread of HIV and AIDS.
The Motion is comprehensive and covers aspects of drug misuse which stray into the territory of other departments, including the Home Office. My noble friend Lady Blatch, the Minister at the Home Office, will therefore sum up the debate which I have great pleasure in opening.
Drug misuse matters to us all--as parents, grandparents, legislators or opinion formers. It threatens the health and wealth of the nation and damages individuals and their families. Drug misuse can lead to illness--sometimes death --a criminal record, broken relationships, loss of education and job opportunities, and loss of hope.
I know that for some parents whether or not their children are misusing drugs is one of their greatest anxieties. For those whose children are involved, the anguish is terrible. Listening to the stories of some of these parents not only engenders compassion but strengthens our determination to do everything in our power to tackle this very difficult problem.
Six weeks ago the Government published their Green Paper, Tackling Drugs Together. This set out our strategy to combat drug misuse and its consequences. The Scottish Drugs Task Force, led by my noble and
Drugs pose many risks. One of our main concerns is the risk to public health and it is particularly appropriate that the House should be having this debate today, on World AIDS Day. I should like to pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Masham of Ilton, for suggesting that the House should discuss these important issues today and for her diligence in pursuing action on HIV, AIDS and drugs.
The Green Paper contains clear aims to galvanise national and local action. Law enforcement is important but it is only one part of the equation. It is vital to convince people, particularly young people, of the risks involved in drug misuse. The Government believe that the way to tackle drugs is by continuing vigorous law enforcement but with a renewed emphasis on education and prevention. The Green Paper therefore sets out three key objectives. They are: first, to increase the safety of communities from drug related crime; secondly, to reduce the acceptability and availability of drugs to young people; and thirdly, to reduce the health risks and other damage caused by drug misuse.
Reducing health risks must be tackled both by dissuading people from misusing drugs and by providing effective services to help those who are. For those who cannot entirely stop, services should be provided which reduce the risks not only to themselves but to others--including, of course, the risks of HIV and AIDS.
There is strong evidence that we have been successful in increasing awareness of the HIV-related risks and are also increasingly effective in encouraging those who do inject to adopt safer practices. The report, AIDS and Drug Misuse Update by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, published in September last year, includes international comparisons which show that the prevalence of HIV infection among injecting drug misusers is less than 2 per cent. in most of the UK. This compares with 15 to 20 per cent. in Germany and 30 per cent. in the Netherlands. Notable exceptions are in Edinburgh, where a quarter of drug injectors are thought to be HIV-postive--though this is half the level reported in 1986; Dundee, which is slightly higher, 25 per cent. to 30 per cent.; and London where the estimates are on average 8 per cent.
Total funding for health services for drug misusers has increased significantly in recent years from £15.5 million four years ago to over £25 million this year of which over £16 million is targeted to reduce the spread of HIV and other blood-borne infections. The aim of these services is to help people to stop taking drugs. But the Government also recognise that for some misusers complete abstinence must be a long-term goal with intermediate stages.
Though this evidence suggests that government policies have been effective, there is no room for complacency and the Government have reaffirmed in the Green Paper the importance of drug treatment services. We have also set a target in the Health of the
The Green Paper commits the Government to several new initiatives which not only combat drug misuse but protect the public health. Major steps include: the launch of a national drugs helpline to be run by staff with a good knowledge of drug misuse. They will be able to refer those who need help to appropriate agencies and give advice and support to others who seek information or who are worried and anxious. The helpline will be available from April next year.
The Department of Health will also be co-ordinating a new publicity strategy. It will focus on reducing the acceptability of drugs, especially among young people. It will involve young people themselves, to put across the message to others of their own age in terms they understand and believe. We recently saw just how effective this strategy can be when the department ran a video competition for schools, focusing on drug and other substance misuse which attracted nearly 2,000 entries. We shall also use the expertise of those outside government in advertising and the media who can help us get the message across. And we will encourage partnerships with the private sector for sponsorship and commitment to tackle this miserable problem.
This is a big financial investment and we are determined to ensure that all the resources spent deliver tangible results. Good intentions are not enough. That is why we launched a major review of the effectiveness of drug treatment services in April this year. It is being conducted by a task force, chaired by the Reverend Dr. John Polkinghorne, which will report to Ministers in early 1996. Its remit is to ensure that treatment services work to clear objectives, and that an assessment can be made of how effective they are.
The task force has already commissioned a "mapping" survey of current services and has invited those in the field to say what works and what does not. The task force has already received an encouraging 100 responses. A major study of treatment outcomes will also begin in early 1995. This is breaking new ground, for it will be the first time that such a comprehensive review has been undertaken.
The Green Paper makes clear that the Government will continue to encourage a range of initiatives which have a proven track record. This includes needle exchange schemes, which are particularly important in combating the spread of HIV and other blood-borne diseases such as hepatitis. I saw for myself how effective such schemes can be when I visited the Angel Drug Project in Liverpool Road, which offers an impressive programme of care.
Of course not all drug misusers are in touch with services. We need to reach them, too. That is why the Government fund health authorities to develop projects which go out to make contact with people in the streets,
There is also a need to encourage drug misusers to adopt safer sexual practices. The department will be making available the results of an exploratory study by AVERT on safer sex education for drug misusers.
Another important means of discouraging injecting drug misuse and the spread of HIV is the substitute prescribing of oral methadone. I know it is a controversial area but the Government have accepted the advice of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs that the benefits of oral methadone have been demonstrated; but with the important proviso that the prescribing of methadone alone is unlikely to reduce substantially drug use, injecting, and risky sexual behaviour.
That is why the Government have accepted the need to set up structured oral methadone maintenance programmes on a pilot basis. A number of studies will start in January, involving between 300 and 400 drug misusers, and will be funded for 12 months. A shortlist of those wishing to take part is being drawn up and announcements on the successful schemes will be made before Christmas. The studies will be independently evaluated and the results will be fed into the work of the task force.
So we are tackling drug misuse on many fronts, recognising that it is a large and growing problem. We are faced with an increase in experimentation by young people, an increase in new addicts, more misuse and, sadly, deaths. All this means a real increase in human misery. The Green Paper is a unique opportunity to meet the challenge and tackle this threat.
The Government are particularly concerned by the number of young people who misuse drugs--as is every parent in the country. A recent British crime survey suggests that nearly a third of young people between the ages of 16 and 29 have taken an illegal drug. And, worryingly, 14 per cent. of school children aged 14 and 15 admit to taking an illegal drug. Young people need to be better informed about the risks of drug misuse so that they can resist pressure, whether from their own friends, brothers or sisters or anyone else.
Education must be one of the keys to success. That is why my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education has launched several new initiatives which will play a major part in the Government's drugs strategy. These include: new support for training teachers in drug education, and the funding of innovative projects around the country to test different approaches; publication on 8th November of a draft circular for consultation. This contains guidance for schools on the dangers of substance misuse, including solvent, alcohol and tobacco. It also contains advice on the development of school policies on drugs education, and on how to deal with drug-related incidents on school premises; the development of guidance on different ways of teaching about drugs within the national curriculum; the production of a digest of teaching materials to help schools to select those which best suit their needs; and the Department for Education is also organising a series of regional conferences in the New
The Green Paper is called Tackling Drugs Together because we recognise that a co-ordinated approach is vital at both national and local level. At national level the Home Office, the Department of Health, the Department for Education and H.M. Customs and Excise all have key roles to play. But the problems cannot be tackled by central government alone. At the local level teachers, the police, health professionals, parents and carers, social services, the probation service, the prison service, voluntary agencies and many others need to work together to maximise our efforts in dealing with this tragic problem that still claims too many victims through experimentation, dependency and crime.
It is possible for local people, working together, to make a real impact on local problems. For example, the East Sussex Drugs Advisory Council has, with the support of the drugs prevention initiative, responded to the worrying problem of drug use in the rural areas of the county.
First, it undertook research which showed that drug use was common to many young people, whether they lived in rural or urban communities. Information and advice for these young people were clearly needed as a matter of urgency; but the population was scattered over a wide area. How could a confidential accessible service be provided? How could young people be attracted, without ringing alarm bells in the whole community?
The solution was a youth outreach minibus. The scheme was piloted in Woodingdean. Young people themselves were involved in the management committee. In its first 10 months, the bus operated for three nights a week, for 2½ hours at a time, and 309 people made contact. Those people went on to contact the bus on a further 539 occasions. Most of the contacts were boys aged 13 to 16 and girls aged 14 to 16; but 78 adults also sought advice. The most requested subject for information was drugs. There were 1,179 inquiries about different drugs on 504 occasions. The youth advice and information bus continues to visit sites in Woodingdean, Ovingdean, Rottingdean and Saltdean, and is into its third year of operation.
The Government need to build on good work like this and we welcome the advice and comments of those already working in the field. Our consultation period runs until 20th January and the results will inform the White Paper to be published in the spring.
To underpin and strengthen local efforts the Government have proposed setting up over 100 Drug Action Teams. The teams will be set up by chief executives of district health authorities and will be composed of key people who can make things happen locally. They will be advised by reference groups drawing on a wider range of local interests.
District health authorities will be asked to report to central government on the setting up of teams by 30th September next year. The chair of each team--selected by the team members--will report to the Lord President of the Council, my right honourable friend Tony
Members of voluntary organisations will be influential in the part they play on the reference groups and they will draw on the work they do in providing expert advice, treatment and rehabilitation to drug misusers. Probably the largest and best known charity in the field is Turning Point, which has nearly 50 projects delivering a range of services to over 14,000 people a year. The voluntary sector makes a remarkable contribution not only to tackling drug misuse but also to combating HIV and to caring for those infected. Organisations like ACET and Barnardos, for example, are reaching young people in schools, and are very impressive in the work that they do.
I have concentrated on the need to reduce the acceptability of drugs, especially to young people and on the health risks associated with misuse. But the Green Paper also underlines the need to reduce the availability of drugs and to improve the safety of communities from drug related crime. These are issues for which the Home Office has prime responsibility and my noble friend Lady Blatch, in closing the debate, will expand on initiatives being undertaken in these areas.
In conclusion, I cannot pretend that there are easy or quick answers to this problem. But I am confident that our new strategy is an important step forward. The Government are determined to ensure that the resources we are investing are used effectively, measured against clear outcomes, and monitored. The strategy provides a clear framework for this.
In taking all these tasks forward at national level we will never forget that we are not just talking about statistics but about individuals, their families and the communities in which they live and work. Lives have been blighted, indeed even ended, by the misery and waste that drug misuse can cause. We owe it to them to make tackling drugs together a reality. I look forward to your Lordships' debate and to my noble friend's concluding remarks. I commend the Motion to the House.
Moved, That this House takes note of the Government's Green Paper, Tackling Drugs Together, and of the health risks of drug abuse, particularly the spread of HIV and AIDS.--(Baroness Cumberlege.)
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